Well, I’m not.
Not quite, anyway. Here’s a good catch by Datechguy. He notes that Morning Joe, etc. “are doing their victory dance” based on some new Quinnipiac polls showing Obama way ahead in both Florida and Ohio.
He next alerts us to this Hugh Hewitt interview from August of 2012 with Peter Brown, assistant director of Quinnipiac. It explains a lot. You may or may not believe this is the way polls are conducted, and you may or may not believe Peter Brown. But from my earlier research I think this is what’s going on with at least some of the pollsters, and I actually think Quinnipiac is probably among them.
Hewitt begins by asking the reasoning behind Quinnipiac’s models that show large Democratic percentages such as 8 or 9 per cent:
PB: Well, what is important to understand is that the way Quinnipiac and most other major polls do their sampling is we do not wait for party ID. We ask voters, or the people we interview, do they consider themselves a Democrat, a Republican, an independent or a member of a minor party. And that’s different than asking them what their party registration is. What you’re comparing it to is party registration. In other words, when someone starts as a voter, they have the opportunity of, in most states, of being a Republican, a Democrat, or a member of a minor party or unaffiliated…
HH: Now what I don’t understand this, so educate me on it, if Democrats only had a three point advantage in Florida in the final turnout measurement in 2008, but in your poll they have a nine point turnout advantage, why is that not a source of skepticism for people?
PB: Well, I mean, clearly there will be some people who are skeptics. This is how we’ve always done our polls. Our record is very good in terms of accuracy. Again, remember, we’re asking people what they consider themselves at the time we call them.
HH: But I don’t know how that goes to the issue, Peter, so help me. I’m not being argumentative, I really want to know. Why would guys run a poll with nine percent more Democrats than Republicans when that percentage advantage, I mean, if you’re trying to tell people how the state is going to go, I don’t think this is particularly helpful, because you’ve oversampled Democrats, right?
PB: But we didn’t set out to oversample Democrats. We did our normal, random digit dial way of calling people. And there were, these are likely voters. They had to pass a screen. Because it’s a presidential year, it’s not a particularly heavy screen.
HH: And so if, in fact, you had gotten a hundred Democrats out of a hundred respondents that answered, would you think that poll was reliable?
PB: Probably not at 100 out of 100.
HH: Okay, so if it was 75 out of 100…
PB: Well, I mean…
HH: I mean, when does it become unreliable? You know you’ve just put your foot on the slope, so I’m going to push you down it. When does it become unreliable?
PB: Like the Supreme Court and pornography, you know it when you see it.
HH: Well, a lot of us look at a nine point advantage in Florida, and we say we know that to be the polling equivalent of pornography. Why am I wrong?
PB: Because what we found when we made the actual calls is this kind of party ID.
HH: Do you expect Democrats, this is a different question, do you, Peter Brown, expect Democrats to have a nine point registration advantage when the polls close on November 6th in Florida?
PB: Well, first, you don’t mean registration.
HH: I mean, yeah, turnout.
PB: Do I think…I think it is probably unlikely.
HH: And so what value is this poll if in fact it doesn’t weight for the turnout that’s going to be approximated?
PB: Well, you’ll have to judge that. I mean, you know, our record is very good. You know, we do independent polling. We use random digit dial. We use human beings to make our calls. We call cell phones as well as land lines. We follow the protocol that is the professional standard.
HH: As we say, that might be the case, but I don’t know it’s responsive to my question. My question is, should we trust this as an accurate predictor of what will happen? You’ve already told me there…
PB: It’s an accurate predictor of what would happen is the election were today.
HH: But that’s, again, I don’t believe that, because today, Democrats wouldn’t turn out by a nine point advantage. I don’t think anyone believes today, if you held the election today, do you think Democrats would turn out nine percentage points higher than Republicans?
PB: If the election were today, yeah. What we found is obviously a large Democratic advantage.
HH: I mean, you really think that’s true? I mean, as a professional, you believe that Democrats have a nine point turnout advantage in Florida?
PB: Our record has been very good. You know, Hugh, I…
HH: That’s not responsive. It’s just a question. Do you personally, Peter, believe that Democrats enjoy a nine point turnout advantage right now?
PB: What I believe is what we found.
HH: Geez, I just, and an eight point in Ohio? I’m from Ohio. Democrats haven’t had an eight point advantage in Ohio since before the Civil War. I mean, that just never happens, but Peter, I appreciate your coming on. I’m not persuaded that Quinnipiac Polls haven’t hurt themselves today, but I appreciate your willingness to come on and talk about it.
To understand this you have to understand the concept of random sampling (that is, unless you think it’s all a pro-Democratic plot by pollsters, in which case that’s all you have to understand). If sampling is truly random, then the percentage of Democrats answering the poll (and who say they plan to vote) will accurately reflect the percentage of Democrats who would actually be voting if the election were held that day. To adjust for wild skews (for example, if the sample ended up being 75% Democrats), the pollsters could use something called “stratified sampling” to adjust for the problem.
I believe that’s correct, anyway. But I’m not a pollster, nor do I play one on TV.
By the way, here’s Gallup’s polling method:
The findings from Gallup’s U.S. surveys are based on the organization’s standard national telephone samples, consisting of directory-assisted random-digit-dial (RDD) telephone samples using a proportionate, stratified sampling design.
From what Brown says, Quinnipiac doesn’t stratify its polls unless there’s a huge red flag staring them in the face. But Gallup does. Its accuracy would depend on what parameters it uses for stratification, and how well they reflect reality.